LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – With Tiger Woods overshadowing the sports world like a colossus, the PGA Tour has so far managed to provide fairly robust resistance to the global economic downturn.
Although neither Woods nor the lucrative U.S. circuit have been totally immune to financial woe, both appear to be in surprisingly good health.
Woods won six times in 17 events on the 2009 Tour and ended his campaign with earnings of $10,508,163.
Although disappointed he failed to add to his career tally of 14 majors, the world number one also clinched the season-long points race for the FedExCup along with a bonus of $10 million.
While sport has been left vulnerable to the loss of marketing and advertising dollars over the last 12 months, the Tour has negotiated fairly smooth waters.
The U.S. circuit was fully sponsored for 2009 and although the troubled Detroit automaker Buick has withdrawn two title sponsorships for next year, one of those events has already been replaced.
Commissioner Tim Finchem predicts that perhaps two more sponsors could disappear before the end of 2010 but, overall, he believes the Tour is in a “comparatively quite good” situation amid the economic downturn.
“The good news is we’ve had a lot of good extensions well out into the future,” Finchem said at last week’s Tour Championship. “I think we’re going to have some … additional new sponsors over the next two or three years.
“I’d characterise the situation as good, maybe even comparatively quite good, when you look at other enterprises. But certainly we have our challenges ahead of us.”
Earlier this week two news stories emerged on the same day, one highlighting the power of the Tiger factor and the other proving that golf cannot afford to be complacent.
On the golf front the Tour announced Verizon Heritage would not renew its title sponsorship of the Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, South Carolina after the 2010 edition.
A title sponsor for more than 20 years, Verizon said it would be restructuring its future involvement with the circuit and would focus instead on “select” events that provided more opportunities for business development throughout the year.
Within hours of that announcement Forbes Magazine reported Woods had become the first person in sport to earn more than $1 billion.
According to Forbes the 33-year-old American crossed that threshold with the help of his $10 million FedExCup bonus.
“Woods has been the world’s highest-paid athlete since 2002 when he surpassed (Formula One’s Michael) Schumacher,” the magazine reported.
“His earnings have surged in recent years as he launched a golf-course design business. He currently has three courses underway that pay him more than $10 million per project.”
For many people Woods is golf and he has almost single-handedly ushered in an era of multi-million dollar endorsements and lucrative appearance money since turning professional in 1996.
His Afro-American-Asian background has spread the sport to an audience far beyond its traditional image of male, white and middle-class and he has become the world’s best known and most marketable athlete.
“He’s the best draw out there,” Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University, told Reuters.
“If you’re a sponsor of an event, generally what will happen is you’ll cut your overall spend, you’ll cut your spend in the middle, but you’ll keep your best value deal out there.
“For a lot of people that best value deal probably is the PGA (Tour) and the event that Tiger is in. There’s always been some discrimination in favor of events Tiger plays.”
When Woods competes the television ratings soar along with an abundance of advertising dollars.